By WILLIAM NEUMAN and ANDREA ZARATE
PUCALLPA, Peru — Afraid the police would tip off suspects, Francisco Berrospi kept local officers in the dark when he headed into the rain forest as a prosecutor to investigate illegal logging. Sometimes it hardly seemed to matter, though.
Even when he managed to seize trucks, chain saws or illegally harvested trees, judges would often force him to give them back, he said. Bribes were so common, he said, that one anticorruption official openly encouraged him to take them.
More than half of Peru is covered by dense forest, including a wide stretch of the Amazon basin, which spreads across South America. Its preservation is considered central to combating global warming and protecting the many species of plants and animals found only in the region.
In recent years, Peru has passed laws to crack down on illegal logging, as required by a 2007 free trade agreement with the United States. But large quantities of timber, including increasingly rare types like mahogany, continue to flow out, much of it ultimately heading to the United States for products like hardwood flooring and decking sold by American retailers.
The World Bank estimates that as much as 80 percent of Peru’s logging exports are harvested illegally, and officials say the wood typically gets shipped using doctored paperwork to make the trade appear legal.
It is a pattern seen in other parts of the world, including the far east of Russia, where environmentalists have documented the rampant illegal logging of oak and other kinds of wood bound for the United States and elsewhere.